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URI nursing study finds effects of premature birth can reach into adulthood
Date:6/15/2011

KINGSTON, R.I. June 15, 2011 In the longest running U.S. study of premature infants who are now 23 years old, University of Rhode Island Professor of Nursing Mary C. Sullivan has found that premature infants are less healthy, have more social and school struggles and face a greater risk of heart-health problems in adulthood.

Sullivan has also found that supportive, loving parents and nurturing school environments can mitigate the effects of premature birth. She also found that premature babies are resilient and have a strong drive to succeed.

A research scientist at Women and Infants Hospital and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, Sullivan has been studying a cohort of babies born prematurely at Women and Infants Hospital in the 1980s for 21 years. Since the lead study was launched by Brown University, the research has attracted a total of $7 million in federal grants. The study subjects are now 23 years old.

The latest investigation, funded by a $2.4 million National Institutes of Health grant to URI, is examining whether stresses experienced by pre-term babies lead to illnesses when they are adults.

In March, Sullivan presented her early findings at the Eastern Nursing Research Society in Philadelphia. Sullivan's co-investigator, cardiologist Jim Zeigler, will present their findings at the 27th Congress meeting of the European Group of Pediatric Work Physiology at Britain's University of Exeter Sept. 19 - 23.

Her latest work is based on the "fetal origins hypothesis," which states that the stress response of pre-term infants, called the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, is a mechanism underlying fetal origins of adult chronic diseases.

Pre-term birth sets up a stress response, which produces higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which is essential for regulating metabolism, immune response, vascular tone and homeostasis, Sullivan said. Her rese
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Contact: Dave Lavallee
dlavallee@advance.uri.edu
401-874-5862
University of Rhode Island
Source:Eurekalert

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